Cubs

How the Cubs match up against the Dodgers in the NLCS

How the Cubs match up against the Dodgers in the NLCS

Ben Zobrist used a 1910 model of a glove during the Cubs workout Thursday, "just for fun."

Think the Cubs are loose enough?

Zobrist and his teammates are feeling themselves right now, as well they should. 

Tuesday's NLDS-clinching Game 4 comeback in San Francisco ranks among the best in MLB posteason history and the team that finished the regular season with the best record in baseball is overflowing with confidence.

As the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled out all the stops to fend off the Washington Nationals in a high-stress Game 5 Thursday night, the Cubs only had to be concerned with what to eat for dinner ("I think we're gonna use UberEats," Joe Maddon said).

Before the Dodgers and Nationals squared off in the longest nine-inning game in postseason history, Maddon didn't need to deliver any John Wooden quotes about how the Cubs just needed to focus on playing their game. 

Been there, done that.

Beyond Clayton Kershaw, the Cubs hitters have very little experience going up against the rest of the Dodgers pitchers, but that wasn't enough to create any sense of panic in Maddon at the Cubs workout at Wrigley Field Thursday.

"It's the same way for us, although I do believe a pitcher who's pitching well should have an advantage over a team that has not seen him to that point, normally," Maddon said. "Kershaw, we've seen in the past and you know how good he is. [Rich] Hill, I've never seen in person yet, but I've seen him on TV. 

"Of course, it's something different. But I wouldn't worry about that. ... I honestly believe our guys will be equal to the challenge. I know they're gonna be ready. We're feeling pretty good about ourselves. Just continually work the moment and we'll be fine."

The Cubs are already in a good spot, getting three full days of rest before the National League Championship Series starts Saturday night. 

Plus, they get to reset their rotation and roll out their ace (Jon Lester) for Game 1 in hopes of setting the tone again. 

The Dodgers, meanwhile, tapped their closer (Kenley Jansen) for a career-high 51 pitches and both of their top two starters (Kershaw and Rich Hill) in the do-or-die Game 5 Thursday night.

Kershaw threw 110 pitches in Game 4 Tuesday, had a day off, then threw another seven pitches to get two outs Thursday night. Would the Dodgers push him again to start one of the games at Wrigley this weekend?

Hill dealt with blister issues the entire second half of the season and already started Game 5 Thursday on short rest after throwing 82 pitches on Sunday. He wasn't all that effective in either outing (combined 6.43 ERA, 1.86 WHIP).

But the Dodgers are far more than just three pitchers.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

2016 SEASON SERIES

The Cubs went 4-3 against the Dodgers in the regular season, winning three of four at Wrigley in June before dropping a pair of one-run contests in a three-game set at Dodger Stadium in late August.

The Cubs finished the season with a +252 run differential, but that number was only +3 against the Dodgers in the seven games as the Cubs offense averaged only 2.7 runs per game against L.A. pitching.

LINEUP

The Dodgers lineup is so loaded with lefties, both Maddon and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer admitted rookie southpaw Rob Zastryzny could crack the 25-man NLCS roster.

Zastryzny has only 16 big-league innings under his belt and got lost in the shuffle a little bit down the stretch, appearing in only two games in the final four weeks of the regular season. But the results were all positive (1.13 ERA, 1.06 WHIP).

In the winner-take-all Game 5, the Dodgers started six lefties and a switch-hitter against Nationals ace Max Scherzer and then brought out another lefty (Andre Ethier) to pinch hit.

Beyond Lester, the Cubs also had three southpaws in their bullpen in the NLDS - Travis Wood, Mike Montgomery and closer Aroldis Chapman. Zastryzny would represent another weapon if the Cubs went that route.

Regardless of side, the Dodgers have a deep lineup with a nice blend of youth (Corey Seager, Joc Pederson) and battle-tested veterans (Chase Utley, Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez) plus role players like Josh Reddick, Howie Kendrick and the enigmatic Yasiel Puig.

Utley and catcher Carlos Ruiz won the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 and will help keep the clubhouse focused on the big picture.

ROTATION

Kershaw pulled a Madison Bumgarner by pitching in three of the five NLDS games, leaving his status in doubt. 

Is Game 1 out of the question? He only threw seven pitches Thursday night plus his warm-ups in the bullpen. Other than that, he had Wednesday and will have Friday off after Tuesday's 110-pitch start.

Can he go in Game 2 Sunday night? Or will the Dodgers play it safe and just wait to unleash him until next week in Los Angeles?

Those are the main questions around the Dodgers rotation, since the sun rises and sets with Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet. 

Hill's blisters could still be a concern and he probably won't be a factor in the first two games at Wrigley.

Then there's 20-year-old phenom Julio Urias, who pitched twice against the Cubs in the regular season to a 1-1 record and 4.91 ERA. But Urias really turned a corner in August, going 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA in his final eight games (six starts).

Japanese rookie Kenta Maeda rounds out the rotation and only lasted three innings in his first postseason start against the Nationals, giving up four runs and taking the loss.

BULLPEN

After taking advantage of the Giants' shaky bullpen in the NLDS, the Cubs now draw a Dodgers bullpen that paced the majors with a 3.35 ERA in the regular season.

Jansen (47 SVs, 1.83 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 13.6 K/9) and Joe Blanton (28 HLDs, 2.48 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) lead the way. Righties Pedro Baez, Josh Fields and Ross Stripling and lefty Luis Avilan present manager Dave Roberts with plenty of options for the middle innings.

Grant Dayton, a 28-year-old rookie, had a 2.05 ERA in the regular season, but had a rough NLDS (16.20 ERA, 4.20 WHIP).

KEY TO THE SERIES

The Cubs hit just .200 with a .597 OPS against the Giants in the NLDS and saw a stunning share of their offense come from the pitching staff. 

But now they draw a team that threw everything on the line just to get to the NLCS.

Kershaw's postseason struggles are for real (5.84 ERA in NLDS, 4.83 in 15 games prior to 2016) and he also missed several months of the regular season with a back injury. If he can't turn things around in the NLCS or if he only gets in a couple games, that would be a huge boost for the Cubs.

Of course, there could be some regression to the mean for baseball's best offense regardless of who's pitching. Only the Texas Rangers posted a worse team OPS in the postseason through the NLDS and they got swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS.

The Cubs offense is a sleeping giant and that Game 4 comeback could be the trigger.

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

hendricks-schwein-1018.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...